Don Juan By Lord Byron Summary and Analysis Canto IX

Summary

The first ten stanzas are an attack on Wellington, who has won the Battle of Waterloo and has been richly rewarded by England for his victory. He should not have accepted the gifts his country lavished on him, Byron thinks; he should have been satisfied with thanks, like Epaminondas, who saved Thebes, and Washington, who freed his country. He could have freed Europe from the tyrannical kings who rule her and he did not. "Never had mortal man such opportunity, Except Napoleon, or abused it more" (St. 9).

Returning to the narration, we find that Don Juan has been chosen by Suwarrow to carry the news of the capture of Ismail to the Empress Catherine in Petersburgh. As he kneels before the queen with his dispatch, his youthful good looks make such an impression on her that for some moments she forgets to break the seal. She falls in love with him even as she gazes on him. Then she opens the dispatch and "great joy is hers."

The attention of the whole court is drawn to Juan when they see that he has won the favor of the empress. Catherine's love for Juan is returned. Although she is much older than he is, "he was of that delighted age / Which makes all female ages equal" (St. 69).

Analysis

The attack on England's military savior, prompted by Byron's subject matter in Canto VIII, seems both strange as well as intemperate and ungrateful. Byron was a Whig, a liberal, and Wellington was a Tory. His feeling toward Wellington was rooted in politics, but went beyond mere party differences. Wellington had thrown his great influence on the side of the status quo and reaction, and for Byron that meant an alliance with tyranny, an attack on freedom.

The attack on a man who had saved his country from defeat by Napoleon, no matter what else, he may or may not have done, shows a pettiness and lack of sense of propriety on Byron's part. Byron is altogether too eager to show that he is not a flatterer (St. 5), but there is genuine indignation present too.

Canto IX is more of a patchwork than any previous canto and contains less narrative. From Wellington Byron turns to the subject of death, which laughs at man, and to the impossibility of arriving at certitude about life. He turns to the subject of his politics: He wishes men to be free of any kind of tyranny, of mobs as well as of kings. And so he rambles on, as he says (St. 42) "now and then narrating, / Now pondering . . ." There is not much narrating, but Juan finally arrives in Petersburgh, the capital of Russia, with his ten-year-old Turkish orphan. Juan is himself about seventeen or eighteen.

Byron makes Catherine the Great seem much younger than she was. He speaks of "Her prime of life, just now in juicy vigour" (St. 72). In 179O, when Ismail was taken, Catherine, born in 1729, would be sixty-one and hardly in the prime of life; she died in 1796. Byron has to make her seem much younger than she is in order to make Juan one of her succession of lovers. Juan had, after all, refused a beautiful sultana of twenty six. Byron knows how old Catherine really is, as he shows in Canto VIII, Stanza 88.

Byron, who is interested in Catherine mainly for Juan's sake, completely fails to do justice to her powerful personality, will, and intellect. If he had done as much for Catherine as he had for Marshal Suvorov, Canto IX would be much more interesting than it is.

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